( Photo courtesy Hiatt family; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

Kay Hiatt, who sold Florida citrus for years in a male-dominated industry, died July 11 at Treasure Coast Hospice — Harper House, in Stuart, Fla.

She was 94 years old.

She was a top sales agent and a pioneer for women in the Florida citrus industry for years, according to her obituary. She initially sold for Deerfield Groves and then Ocean Spray Citrus in Vero Beach, Fla.

“She was well respected by her nationwide customer base and was instrumental in expanding sales of Florida citrus into Japanese markets,” according to the obituary. “In addition to sales, she served on various federal and state committees that oversaw Florida citrus, including the Indian River Advisory Committee.”

Dan Ritchey, CEO of Riverfront Packing Co., Vero Beach, said Hiatt was more than a pioneer in the industry; she was a legend.

“With grace and class, she commanded respect in an industry dominated by men,” Ritchey said in the obituary. “She may have been the only woman in the citrus industry to wield such influence for the first 20 years of her career.”

Hiatt was a first-generation Japanese-American, born in Fife, Wash., and was detained in internment camps with her family for three years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

She was admitted to Bucknell University soon after being released from the internment camp, according to the obituary, and moved to Florida with her husband, Roy Hiatt, where he worked as a chef.

Kay Hiatt’s first job in the industry was a grader on the packing line at Deerfield Groves, according to the obituary.

She had an “insatiable curiosity,” according to the obituary, and learned as much as she could about the other departments at the citrus packinghouse.

“It wasn’t long before she was given the job of running the shipping office where she gleaned abundant knowledge of how the citrus markets worked,” according to the obituary. “With that experience, came the opportunity to join the sales desk and, in a few short years, she was promoted to sales manager.” 

Mike Kissner, formerly of Deerfield Groves, said in the obituary that she “carved her own place and paved the way” for other women by cracking the barrier.

“She was dignified and quiet but when she spoke it revealed her immense experience and high intelligence,” Theresa Nolan, of The Nolan Network, said in the obituary. “She wasn’t just smart, she was also loaded with common sense. I was blessed to know such a fabulous lady.”


Submitted by Mike on Thu, 07/30/2020 - 13:41

I had the pleasure of meeting her when she was with Ocean Spray in Vero Beach during the 90s. Very classy lady. RIP.